Raising the Roof is looking to live up to its name with its plan to deliver affordable housing above Orillia’s post office.
City council heard Monday from Adrian Dingle, director of housing development with Raising the Roof, about the group’s goal to create 40 units atop the post office at 25 Peter St. N. At least 24 of them would be affordable units.
The target demographic would be women who are leaving the Lighthouse shelter and its supportive housing units that will be part of the organization’s new housing and community services hub once it opens on Queen Street.
The project is part of Raising the Roof’s Reside program, which aims to “create social impact through the renovation of vacant real estate,” Dingle explained.
For this development, Raising the Roof is partnering with the non-profit social enterprise group Community Builders as well as the Lighthouse and Redwood Park Communities.
The plan is to renovate the second floor of the post office building to create 20 units and construct a third floor with another 20. Most would be bachelor and one-bedroom units with a monthly rent of $500 to $550. The rest would be at market rent.
It would go beyond simply providing housing. It would include direct tenant support from the Lighthouse’s housing support workers, access to meals through the Lighthouse’s café program, and support relating to mental health, employment skills and community development.
Dingle provided a real-life example of an “ideal candidate” for housing at that location.
Chloe, 33, was born in Orillia and has frequently visited the Lighthouse and The Sharing Place Food Centre. She has gone to the Orillia Public Library to access the internet.
Chloe is unemployed but looking to start a new job downtown. However, housing has been hard to come by.
City transit is her main mode of transportation, so she needs to be near bus routes.
Chloe hasn’t been able to afford her own apartment for five years.
“The most meaningful way to end chronic homelessness is to provide meaningful shelter with the support services,” Mayor Steve Clarke said, adding a project like this can help accomplish that goal.
Coun. Pat Hehn also expressed her support.
“We have such a housing crisis right now (and) I’m just so much in favour,” she said, but asked about the breakdown of affordable and market-rent units.
There’s a push to integrate affordable housing and market rent, Dingle said, noting it is meant to help avoid stigmas and promote interaction among residents.
Tony Bianco, strategic co-ordinator with the Lighthouse, said this development is ideal.
“We want to get ourselves out of the emergency business,” he said of the Lighthouse. “We want to provide stable housing to people … and this project is that stable housing.”
When the new Lighthouse opens, there will be supportive housing where people can stay for up to four years. It’s meant to give them time to prepare for a more stable living environment like the Raising the Roof project, Bianco said.
Construction is expected to begin in early 2023 and the goal is to have people moving in later that year.
Preliminary funding has been received from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation ($1.35-million land equity grant and seed grants and debt financing of up to $118,000) and private corporate grants ($300,000). A submission to Orillia’s Affordable Housing Incentives Policy is also in the works.
One of the issues with the location is parking. Raise the Roof has been working with city staff to come up with a solution, and a parking impact study is underway.
Potential solutions, according to Dingle’s presentation, include “project-specific reduction to the minimum parking requirement, dedication of excess municipal parking stalls for use by tenants, (and) application of Orillia’s cash in lieu of parking policy.”
Dingle asked that the staff report on potential solutions be prioritized.
Coun. Jay Fallis was excited about the project and said he would be happy to help any way he could to address the parking concerns.
“I think it’s a huge win for the city on the affordable housing front and it’s coming at a time when we really need it,” he said. “I honestly believe it’s the equivalent of us winning the lottery.”
Staff will report back to council about the parking situation and will get input from the city’s parking advisory committee.
The post office will remain in the building.